Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Dennis is a planner and an organizer. Professionally he is an architect, a person who controls and designs space. He is frustrated that the rest of his world is not as neat and orderly as he is. However, the rest of the world does not share this ideal. Christie lets him know she will not apologize for being unpredictable. Dennis loves the old trees that surround his house, but beavers come up from the river to gnaw on them. As he tries to construct an argument his current wife will accept, she dozes off. Though he can still ground his son, Dennis has to realize the boy is growing up. Andy now has a life that contains secrets, aspects that are unknown and uncontrolled by his father.

Dennis has worked hard to reconstruct his life after his frustrating first marriage and his difficult divorce, but he has to learn that he cannot control life. Children get sick. They make decisions, such as to get a tattoo, which will show their parents that their children have lives of their own. As much as Dennis would like to control the events in his life, in this story, he learns to let things happen spontaneously. By the end of the story, he can bring his son to the boy’s mother without planning and without negotiating the precise parameters of their visit.

Dennis has changed, a little. At the start of the story, he is frustrated at his former wife Christie’s affectations, with her secretiveness and her inconsistency. He wants to refuse to let their son go with her and tries to paint a picture of her behavior that is dangerous. His role is to be the steady responsible parent, which means seeing his former wife as unreliable. However, when he steps outside his role and sneaks into her apartment, he sees that she loves their son, too. Her love for their son is strong and tender. He is the secretive prowler of the story’s title, but his decision to essentially break into her apartment and her life enables him to see her relationship with Andy in a different light. Dennis can see things through his former wife’s eyes rather than strictly through his own.